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Thursday, August 30, 2018

10 Ways That Children Benefit from Boredom and Free Time

Photo by Bernard Yeo (Flickr)

While my girls kept themselves fairly busy this summer, they did experience moments of boredom. The week when all their friends went on vacation and the time we lost electricity during a storm were especially difficult for them. Like most kids, my girls don't always enjoy downtime, but I like it. Free time without constant stimulation, scheduled activities, or devices gives our kids ten benefits that help them learn, grow, and function better in life.

Boredom Stimulates Physical Health

When my girls are overscheduled, they get physically tired, and their risk for illness increases. I have to be careful to include downtime in their schedule every day as we protect their physical health. As a bonus, my kids sleep better when they relax and experience a bit of boredom rather than stimulating activities before bed.

Boredom Protects Mental Health

Our kids might say that being bored causes them to feel stress, anxiety, and depression, but these mental health challenges actually stem from overstimulation. Too much activity can make kids feel overwhelmed, anxious, and unable to cope with everything on their schedule. We protect our kids' mental health when we let them be bored and enjoy free time to relax, unwind, and play.

Boredom Provides Emotional Security

I don't want my girls to need an activity, friend, or device to make them happy or to affirm their worth. Instead, I want them to find happiness, fulfillment, and confidence in themselves. Spending time alone prompts our kids to develop the emotional security they need to navigate peer pressure, friend challenges, and other life situations.

Boredom Encourages Creativity

Give our kids free time and they can imagine, experiment, and dream to their heart's content. And as they play, they develop creativity that helps them innovate and think outside of the box, skills they could use to transform our world.

Boredom Develops Personal Interests

As a kid, I spent many long hours inventing games during my free time. To this day, I remain grateful for those hours of self-directed play because they helped me choose my current career. I definitely want to give my own girls the gift of free time so they can discover their interests, talents, and abilities, too.

Boredom Trains Kids to Patiently Persevere

We want our kids to exercise patience as they wait in line or sit in class, and they must learn to persevere through tough tasks and hardships. Let's train our kids to cope with downtime so they can successfully handle non-stimulating life situations with patience and perseverance.

Boredom Improves Concentration and Focus

A packed schedule that's filled with activities, devices, and action forces our kids to multitask and think about dozens of things at once. That busyness can sabotage their concentration and focus. When it's time to complete a homework assignment, read a book, or take an exam, they may struggle to sit still and think because they're so used to moving, thinking, and doing all at once.

Boredom Equips Kids to Be Kids

I'm all for giving kids access to summer camps, educational classes, and stimulating social adventures, but they're only young once. Kids need time to enjoy childhood, including the freedom of unstructured play.

Boredom Frees Kids to Think

I get some of my best ideas when I'm doing nothing, tinkering, or doodling. Downtime gives our brains the opportunity to reboot and think.

Boredom Teaches Contentment

My girls know we limit our time on electronics, but that rule doesn't stop them from whining and complaining when their time's up. The other day, I realized that downtime and boredom can help my girls learn contentment and how to be satisfied with and grateful for all of their blessings rather than continually wishing they had more.

The next time your kids say that they're bored, resist the urge to fill their time with activities, stimulation, or devices. Boredom and free time give our kids ten benefits that prepare them for success in life. How do your kids benefit from downtime?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Friday, August 17, 2018

Lead the Pack: 10 Benefits of Hiking as a Family

Photo by cherublisa (Flickr)

After much discussion, we decided to spend our last vacation of the summer on a family hike. My girls and I appreciate the opportunity to get up close and personal with nature as we relax. We also like hiking because it provides 10 benefits for the whole family, a great reason to lead the pack and enjoy a family hike today.

Hiking Promotes Learning

When my girls were younger, I pointed out colorful plants, unique smells, and wildlife noises during our hikes. Now, they research the trails we plan to hike, pack their own magnifying glasses and nature journals, and teach me about the natural wonders we encounter on our hiking adventures.

Hiking Provides Physical Activity

My girls and I enjoy an active lifestyle, and we definitely appreciate the health benefits we gain during hikes. Hiking gives us a cardiovascular workout, improves agility, and builds muscle strength. Plus, it's a fun way to burn calories, tone our bodies, and reach our daily fitness goals.

Hiking Reduces Reliance on Digital Distractions

If your kids are like mine, they love their digital devices, and I admit that I spend a lot of time on my phone, too. There's something about hiking, though, that helps us reset our brains and want to spend less time online. We pack one cellphone for emergency purposes and then spend our device-free hike talking and enjoying the peace, quiet, and tranquil energy of the great outdoors.

Hiking Sharpens Concentration and Focus

Spending time in nature helps our kids reboot their concentration and focus. The physical activity of hiking also gives kids an outlet for their energy, which helps them sit still and think more clearly when they return to the classroom or another task.

Hiking Builds Self-Confidence

With every hike we take, I give my girls more responsibilities. They now feel confident enough to choose our trails, persevere on long hikes and on trails with many obstacles, and pack their own hiking and survival gear. While their self-confidence ensures that my girls can hike successfully, it also equips them to succeed in tough academic classes, push through sports practices, and say no to peer pressure.

Hiking Develops Problem-Solving Skills

Last year, we took a wrong turn and got lost while hiking on an unfamiliar trail. Instead of panicking, my girls figured out how to find our way back to the car. They even discovered how to walk around huge boulders on the trail and cross a stream without getting wet. These and other challenges helped my girls develop problem-solving skills they can use in everyday life.

Hiking Boosts Communication Skills

To pass the time while hiking, my girls and I practice conversational skills, such as asking questions, active listening, and taking turns. We also take advantage of the undistracted time to talk about life goals, work through personal problems they may be experiencing at home or school, and practice respectful debate and negotiation, all important communication tools.

Hiking Improves Mental Health

Hiking is good for our mental health. Studies show that a walk in natural environments releases serotonin and adrenaline in our bodies, allowing us to feel good. We also ruminate less, relieve tension and stress, and fight depression as we hike outdoors.

Hiking Prompts Environmental Protection

My girls are more receptive to learning about ecology and ways they can protect the environment as we walk in nature. They also know that we'll talk often about conservation, practice the "leave no trace" principle, and volunteer regularly to remove litter from our local trails so that we can continue one of our favorite family activities.

Hiking Enhances Family Bonding

One of my favorite hiking benefits is the opportunity to escape real life and truly connect and bond with my girls. Not only do we talk about all sorts of topics as we walk, but we can reminisce for years about the shared memories we make during our hikes.

When we lead the pack and take our family hiking, the entire family can enjoy better health, communication, happiness, and well-being. In addition to these 10 hiking benefits, what does your family gain from hiking?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Sunday, August 12, 2018

7 Ways That Play Develops Emotional Intelligence in Children

Photo by Steve Wilson (Flickr)

My girls return to school soon, and while we're busy buying school supplies and thinking about classes, we're also making time to play and build their emotional intelligence. With emotional intelligence, kids learn to recognize their feelings, discern the source of their emotions, and understand how to handle them. They can then use this intelligence to enhance relationships, succeed in social situations, negotiate and collaborate with others, and lead with confidence. We can help our kids cultivate emotional intelligence in seven ways through play and recess.

Play Encourages Kids to Recognize Emotions

I vividly remember the afternoon years ago when I realized my girls needed help labeling their emotions. As preschoolers, they got into a pinching match over a toy and even yelled that they hated each other. That day, I vowed to help my girls recognize, name, and take ownership of their emotions, and we still practice this skill today as we play. When I notice that one of my girls feels angry, sad, or frustrated because she's not winning a game or has to wait her turn for the slide, we pause and talk about it. We also identify emotions as we play charades, color pictures, and discuss our storytime book illustrations.

Play Improves Self-Regulation

The way kids feel at home on a calm Sunday morning is different than how they feel when they take a big test at school or score a goal on the soccer field. My girls and I can even experience different emotions, including contentment, frustration, and calm, during a single hike. To process and handle these normal emotional changes in positive ways, my kids need self-regulation tools, which is why we practice yoga, use fidget toys, and make time for physical play every day.

Play Encourages Self-Expression

When kids can't express their emotions, they may throw tantrums, get quiet, or run away. To encourage self-expression, my girls and I talk about emotions as we play basketball, build with blocks, and mold play dough. The physical activity and conversation teach my kids to embrace and express their emotions appropriately.

Play Prompts Empathy

Give our kids opportunities for pretend play and they discover empathy, or what it's like to live in someone else's shoes. My girls have learned to see life from a different perspective and acknowledge that other people have feelings as they play dress-up, school, and army.

Play Develops Social and Communication Skills

My younger daughter met a new friend this summer who talks a lot. I'm proud of my girl for listening, and I've also watched her speak up when she has something important to say. These communication skills are part of emotional intelligence and help our kids negotiate, empathize, and lead.

Play Facilitates Understanding and Processing of Tough Emotions

All humans experience scary or unpleasant emotions like anger, fear, and worry, but our kids can feel powerless or out of control when they don't understand or can't process these feelings. Play provides kids with an outlet for emotions, and they can process how they feel as they run, jump, and create. My girls and I also role-play scenarios that may be potentially challenging, and we play games like Simon Says to reinforce ways we can respond properly when we feel angry, afraid, or anxious.

Play Provides Opportunities to Model Emotional Intelligence

Modeling shows my girls that they, too, can be comfortable talking about how they feel, and it gives them feedback and helpful tools for handling their emotions properly. For these reasons, I make an effort to tell my girls when I feel content after a long walk, sad because rainy weather changes our play date plans, or scared about trying a new game, and we talk about triggers and constructive ways we can handle feelings.

Emotional intelligence remains an important skill our kids can develop in seven ways through play and recess. How do you cultivate emotional intelligence in your kids?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart